Path to the pose: Equanimity
Last week, many people reflected on the the life of a man who fought against injustice with peace and love, and his life was taken from him.
There’s a troubling similarity between what was then and what is now, even though 50 years have passed.
I find it very difficult to read about the obscenity and hate and death around the world without feeling lost, hopeless: mute, deaf, and dumb against the shear scale of atrocities. Let alone seeing loved ones hurt, or experiencing it first hand.
In yoga we are taught equanimity – upeksha – the fourth brahmaviharas – which has a lot of definitions, but essentially is responding to your surroundings without losing yourself. It’s a deep and constant serenity that is calm in the face of both the highs and lows. Changes in the external do not shake the internal. In the modern world it has another name: resilience.
Equanimity does not take from the other bramaviharas (compassion, loving kindness, and sympathetic joy) – rather it enables the practitioner to better exercise them.
Dr Martin Luther King Jr was catalyzed by injustice, moved to make things better, but he did not lose himself in his fight. He stayed true to himself and his beliefs. He did not fight fire with fire. They went low, he went high.
Fostering equanimity in ourselves is not easy in a world that is very outwardly focused – where image is everything. Women who are more likely to be conditioned to care and nurture, and associate their worth with how they’re perceived, will find it even harder. I know I do.
Cultivating equanimity in a yoga practice is about creating space, developing firm grounding, and testing balance. In honor of Dr King – and in my work to being a more powerful and authentic activist myself – what follows is a series of poses to help foster equanimity.
Child’s Pose / Balasana
Balasana is my ultimate grounding pose. With feet, shins, arms, and third eye center (forehead 🙄) pressed into the earth, this pose feels supported, safe, and allows you to tune out the days distractions and go inside. Actively press down through hands and send your sits bones towards your heels.
This is a great pose to get centered at the beginning of an equanimity practice. Take time to shine awareness on any physical sensations, emotions, and thoughts you’re experiencing – and allow yourself to observe and to feel without judging or trying to change. Move your awareness to your breath, and start to deepen and intensify your inhales and exhales ready for your practice.
Side Plank / Vasisthasana
Equanimity is centered on balance, stability, and composure. There’s a tension between those three that I think side plank embodies perfectly. Maintain balance through firm grounding in your feet and hand, and by reaching through your upper shoulder blade tip, arm bone, and fingers. Build your stable core by sliding your ribs upwards, and keep composure: breathe, and listen to your body, not your mind, for when you need to come out.
Tree / Vrkasana
Root down to rise up. Plant your roots, grow your tree, find your equanimity.
In this pose, really feel your foot on the floor. Lift your inner ankles, and draw your thigh muscle up to lift your knee. Feel how that allows you to lift, reach, grow, and still keep balance.
Half Malasana with Heart Opener
I found this pose right around the time I was planning the sequences for my retreat and immediately fell in love! It’s a gentler and more grounded malasana, and I found that with my shin on the ground I really had space to access this awesome heart opener. A great physical demonstration of when you are well grounded in who you are you can open your heart to others without losing your balance.
Supported Shoulder Stand / Sarvangasana
I love supported poses and particularly inversions for testing inner equanimity as without the stimulation of movement all you have to do is stay. And that isn’t easy.
Postures which ask for long stays, like inversions, often bring up discomfort, restlessness, an urge to move on.
It’s the same in everyday life – we’re often distracted and comfortable in movement (I know I am) and don’t take time to sit and stay. But, when we’re still and quiet we can sit deeper with our feelings, and train that deep calm stability that allows response without reaction.
There’s physiological responses too. Practicing long inversions and supported heart openers strengthens your immune system, and calms our reactions to external stresses. This is because with your heart above your head, baroreceptors in your body trigger your heart rate to slow and blood pressure to lower, and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. It’s a response explained beautifully in this blog I love.
I think this supported shoulder stand in is the perfect physical manifestation of equanimity – how a strong stable support allows you to open your heart without losing your balance – even when your world is turned upside-down.
I have a blanket on the chair, a block and a large cushion on the floor. Start sideways on the chair and then scoop your legs over the back and slowly lower down. Make sure your chair is well balanced or have a friend help you.
Marichi I / Marichyasana I
Coming back down to earth and winding up the sequence with two poses and two different binds. The bind in Marichi I or Marichyasana I massages your internal organs, and paired with a forward fold to turn your focus inward, is a great practice for equanimity.
From Staff Pose, or Dandasana, bend your left knee and bring your heel as close as possible to your sitting bone. Lengthen out through your right heel, activate toes, and ground both sits bones down. To come into the fold, twist your upper body to the right and press your left shoulder against your bent left leg, then lengthen your rotate your upper body to face the front.
To get the bind, reach your left arm forward snuggle your left shin into your armpit, and fold your arm around the outside of your leg. Reach your right arm back so that you can hold your right wrist with your the left hand. Inhale and lengthen your torso, exhale and gently melt forward.
Restorative Reclined Bound-Angle / Supta Baddha Konasana
Our inner equanimity is fueled and replenished with self-care and restoration. Last up in this equanimity sequence is my favorite restorative pose: supported supta baddha konasana or reclined bound angle pose (also called butterfly 🦋). This pose is supportive and relaxing, and with props a gentle opener for hips and heart.
Place two blocks in a T formation on the floor and place a bolster or cushion on top of them. Bring your butt close to the cushion in baddha konasana legs. My favorite part: loop a strap around your feet and low back. You can also place blankets under your knees and over your eyes. Slowly lean back onto the cushion so your upper back is supported by one block and your head rests on the other.
Feel the full support of the floor and the props and tune into that inner quiet, a vast stillness, your infallible core, your sense of self that can’t be shaken.
Repeat these words to yourself in your head:
My happiness or unhappiness does not depend on the actions of others.
May I not be caught in reactivity.
I am here, I am whole, and I am enough.